A New York magazine columnist examines our current culture, which “exerts a constant pressure on us that severs our relationship to ourselves and each other.”
In her latest collection of essays, Havrilesky (How to Be a Person in the World: Ask Polly's Guide Through the Paradoxes of Modern Life, 2016, etc.) questions the way in which our society has shaped individuals who too often look to others for self-definition, who develop an identity based on the financial means with which they can purchase experiences, and who take to the digital sphere to create new exacerbations of old cultural tropes. “ ‘What should I be doing right now?' is a question that feels more urgent than ever,” writes the author. “Face-to-face, real-time connection to others feels fraught and awkward compared to the safe distance of digital communication. We maintain intimate virtual contact with strangers but seem increasingly isolated from our closest friends and family members.” In fact, the world Havrilesky describes is systematically injured by new developments in the digital and communication realms, making even the smallest interaction unnatural, the vaguest thought superfluous, and the idea of ambition old-fashioned. Throughout these essays, some of which were previously published in different forms, the author looks at a variety of cultural reference points, including the BuzzFeed phenomenon, the hegemony of Hollywood films, and foodie culture, to provide a crucial analytical perspective on human interactions and on the future. “The past is reduced to a slide show,” she writes. “The future is a YouTube video that won’t load. And the present is a jumble of jaunty yellow buttons blurting ‘omg’ and ‘awww’ and ‘tl;dr.’ What else can we do but click through?” Though there seems to be no escape from the world Havrilesky paints for her readers, she makes a point of offering a line of inquiry through which they can develop their own perspectives on society today, carving out their own space in the process.
A fun, often insightful read for digital fatalists.